The first billionaire in hip-hop, right here from the motherf**king West Coast
These are the words with which Dr. Dre appeared to confirm the rumours about Apple buying Beats, the music company he co-founded, for $3.2 billion. They also mark the point at which his music officialy ceased being the most important thing about him.
I still express, yo I don’t smoke weed or sess,
Cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage
Fast forward a few years and Dre had managed to shake off his distaste for weed to the extent that his début solo album, The Chronic, was named after a strain of particularly strong grass.
That album, as much as any single record, set the course for hip hop for the rest of the decade, partly because it ditched the few attempts NWA had made to touch on social commentary. It made gangsta rap the benchmark everything else was measured against:
Every hip-hop record after had to address The Chronic in some way, either embracing or rejecting what it popularized.
Since then, despite discovering and launching both Eminem (arguably rap’s Elvis) and 50 Cent at the turn of the millennium, his musical output has rather stalled. But Beats, the company he co-founded in 2008, has reshaped music, or at least how it’s listened to.
No longer do people choose headphones because of the sound that comes through them. Nor are the most popular headphones cheap anymore. Instead, Beats by Dre have made expensive, shit headphones a fashion item.
And now, by selling the company that marketed these crap headphones (they’ve only been actually making them since 2012, before then a company called Monster actually did all the heavy lifting) to a company that has been making shoddy headphones for years, Dre appears to have transformed rap again, by becoming its first billionaire.
In an aptly timed article entitled Mo Money, Mo Problems: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, Part II, Dre’s fellow producer ?uestlove identifies the 90s, the decade which Dre towered over, as the period when rap lost its soul due to its obsession with money and possessions spiraling out of control. No longer did rappers aspire to a pair of Adidas, now they boasted about yachts and Picassos.
?uestlove makes the case that Diddy was more to blame for this than Dre, but by making his billion (if he actually has) from flogging sub-par products to his fans, I’d argue he’s as guilty as any of the others. Where Jay-Z and Kanye make a video about smashing up a bugatti, creating a world their fans can’t ever touch, Dre sells them shit to make them think they can buy a slice of his lifestyle, all the while getting drunk with his celebrity friends and laughing all the way to the bank.
The final irony is that Dre has apparently been holding off releasing new music because of worries that if the music wasn’t up to scratch, it might hurt the image of Beats.
Personally I’m not sure how music can hurt the image of an audio company that uses mirrors at its point of sale.
PS 1. I don’t think that this is a bad business deal, at least for Apple. If anything Beats might be going a bit cheap. I just find it sad that Dre will now be remembered for flogging tat than making music.
PS 2. I also wonder whether this deal could still fall apart. Apple is hardly a company known for sharing information about its actions and it strikes me that a rapper drunkenly boasting isn’t quite in line with Apple’s brand.
Header image by Yahoo! Inc on flickr